Four reasons why the cloud is not your average data center

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I work in the cloud space, helping to solution systems and moving on-premises data centers to the cloud. Recently, I have noticed a growing trend among my clients who think: “It’s just a data center. I can move my stuff in, right?”

cloud modelsCloud providers are running a business. This business is focused on the following two core pillars:

  • A business model that defines what a cloud provider offers and how it makes money
  • A well-defined architecture that provides the enabling capabilities for the business model

Not everyone looking to move to the cloud is fully aware of this. Here are four observations about the implications of these pillars for those looking to use the cloud.

1. Compute

Those of you with large data centers are probably used to investing time and money to select the server vendor or hypervisor vendor of your choice. This often includes vendor, chip set and more to suit your needs. Obviously, this has a number of advantages for clients since you have a degree of control. Of course, it also has advantages for vendors since they can “steer” you into technologies that may meet your needs but also lock you into a specific architecture.

When it comes time to move, you may find that much of the cloud is based on commodity hardware that is independent of major vendors and often runs an open source variant of Linux. It may be that moving your existing workloads running on AIX on Power is not supported by certain providers.

A cloud infrastructure as a service (IaaS) provider cannot be all things to all clients. It is just trying to do some things very well and at the lowest cost. Generally, there is a fixed and well-defined architecture.

Since you can’t easily migrate your workloads or move them to the IaaS provider, you’ll often find that the phrase “I’ll just move it to the cloud” gets a lot more challenging to put into action.

2. Storage

Storage is another interesting and rapidly evolving area. All of you probably have a lot of storage systems in your data centers. Some of it is shared storage across multiple applications, but some is also targeted to support high performance, high transaction environments. In working with clients to shape solutions for the cloud, I’ve found that it is important to dig deep into this topic right away. Remember: cloud IaaS providers are often based on architectures that support a large volume of systems at the lowest cost possible. If you’re an architect, you may need to find a compromise. You may find that you can’t take your specific storage appliances or even architecture and simply move it to the IaaS provider.

You will also have to look seriously at how and where the data is stored, since shared storage could be multitenant. Remember, this is the cloud. The key point here is to not just assume that you can move the storage architecture you have today to the cloud.

3. Network

Network is a hot topic for cloud. In working with clients who are used to controlling or designing their data centers, you may often see a scenario where the client architects will indicate they need to be able to have a server with a number of network interface cards that route traffic in a certain way with a direct connection into their network, without network address translation.

The implication here is that a cloud IaaS provider, in order to streamline operations and provide a service at a low cost, may often put bounds on what can or can’t be done, especially in an automated manner. The paradigm of a network engineer manually connecting the wires and adding network interface cards (NIC) to physical servers runs into challenges in the cloud, especially if you want to use bare metal servers. A cloud IaaS provider is not just another of your data centers, nor is it a co-location data center where you have a cage of servers.

This can result in changes or compromises being made to a networking architecture for workloads that you want to move to the cloud.

4. Management services

Large clients are often used to having a service outsourced, or having the provider take care of common management services. Again, looking at this from the current paradigm, you can assume that all cloud IaaS providers also do this, just like your classic outsourcer.

Sometimes, that is not in the business model or usage model of an IaaS provider. Therefore, there can be a disconnect when you start to move your workloads to the cloud. This may have unexpected results. The cloud computing world is changing quickly and dramatically, so it is important to understand what can happen.

Of course, all of these observations are not set in stone. Each situation is unique. But I wanted to share these with you to provide a point of reference as you journey to the cloud. What are your thoughts?

Senior Cloud Solutioning Architect

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